Excerpt: A very dry and warm early March has scuttled the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s much-anticipated plan to release over 11 million acre-feet of Colorado River water from Lake Powell downstream into Lake Mead – a so-called “equalization” release.
Excerpt: A disappointment? Sure. But the planned release amount is higher than the normal release of 8.3 million acre-feet, and it should be enough to keep Lake Mead from descending below levels that would trigger a shortage declaration, according to BOR spokesman Marlon Duke. Already, Lake Mead is 1.5 to 2 feet above expectations at this time last year thanks to higher than anticipated intervening water flows into Lake Mead. Continuing conservation by the Lower Basin states has also helped keep Lake Mead’s elevation above the shortage-declaration threshold.
Excerpt: More water flowing now into Lake Powell makes the likelihood of the Upper Basin reservoir’s “operational tier” rising to an “Equalization Tier” in 2018. That could mean a big release of 11 million acre-feet or more into Lake Mead next year. But all this depends on Mother Nature and how much snow falls next winter.
Excerpt: Whether we are talking about draining all of its water or just most of it, reducing Lake Powell to a secondary status behind Lake Mead would fail in two of the plan’s most important goals, according to a technical assessment released last fall by Utah State University researchers.
Excerpt: The Fill Mead First proposal would have little effect in its initial phases on the amount of fine-grain sediment released into the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. The plan’s final phase, on the other hand, would “cause significant ecosystem adjustments associated with the sudden change from relatively clear water to a very turbid river.”
Excerpt: Drought conditions have declined substantially across the region in recent weeks, with heavy storms replenishing reservoirs and piling fresh powder on ski resorts.
Excerpt: Under federal guidelines that kick in when water flows reach certain volumes, the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the river basin’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, could release enough water from the former to raise the elevation of the latter by 20 feet or more — providing a remarkable shot in the arm for a lake that has been declining steadily during a devastating drought that started in 2000.
Excerpt: That all means that delicate negotiations that have been underway to get the seven states which use the water — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — to increase the amount of water they conserve are still crucial.
Excerpt: Snow is piling up in the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, but this year’s first official water forecast for the Colorado River still predicts Lake Mead will shrink enough to trigger a federal shortage declaration in 2018.
Excerpt: Nevada, California and Arizona are closing in on a drought contingency plan, under which the states would voluntarily reduce their use of Colorado River water to prop up the reservoir. Arizona and Nevada would bear the brunt of the cuts early on, but California would also accept reductions to its share of the river for the first time under the deal.
Excerpt: Entsminger said he’s optimistic that the deals will get done sometime this year.
Excerpt: Arizona is closing in on a set of water conservation deals that leaders hope will prop up storage in Lake Mead, and forestall painful and chaotic shortages for at least a few years.
Excerpt: A deep winter snowpack like what's begun building in the Rocky Mountains this year could delay the cuts, but experts agree the system is essentially overdrawn and bold action is necessary soon regardless of weather.
Excerpt: Ultimately the fear is that a worsening shortage could drop the reservoir below 1,025 feet. That's below the elevations where states have agreed on the consequences, and it would invite radical and unpredictable rationing from the U.S. Interior Department.
Excerpt: Utah State University scientists urge caution in implementing the widely publicized Fill Mead First plan aimed at restoring the canyon. The massive plan calls for partially or completely draining Lake Powell, the reservoir formed by the dam, and collecting the water downstream in Lake Mead, the reservoir formed by Hoover Dam.
Excerpt: He and colleagues found evaporation losses at Lake Mead are measured by the U.S. Geological Survey in a state-of-the-science program, but there have been no efforts to measure evaporation at Lake Powell since the mid-1970s. No studies have been conducted since the mid-1980s estimating how much reservoir water moves into the bedrock that surrounds Lake Powell. Using the most-recent data, USU researchers showed evaporation losses would be slightly less if the proposed plan was implemented, but the uncertainty in this prediction is large.
Excerpt: Officials in Arizona have approved a new water-sharing agreement that will leave more water in Lake Mead in an effort to head off an unprecedented federal shortage declaration.
Excerpt: Under an agreement between water officials in Phoenix and Tucson, a significant amount of Colorado River water allocated to Phoenix will be stored in Tucson-area reservoirs and the underground aquifer next year, while Tucson will draw about 20 percent less water from Lake Mead than normal.
Excerpt: Lake Mead sank to a low record of 1,071.61 feet above sea level on July 1, but has since gained nearly 5 feet.
If the lake’s surface is below 1,075 feet at the beginning of a year, Nevada would be forced to cut its river use by 4 percent while Arizona would take an 11 percent cut.
The Bureau of Reclamation currently forecasts that the lake will be at 1,078 feet above sea level— 3 feet above the first water shortage trigger — at the end of December.
Excerpt: The federal Bureau of Reclamation has again increased flows of Colorado River water through the Grand Canyon to simulate natural flooding.
Excerpt: The 96-hour release that began Monday from Glen Canyon Dam near Page mimics the river’s natural flows and deposits sand to protect archaeological sites and create habitat for wildlife and beaches for rafters.
Excerpt: The bureau says the higher releases won’t change the total amount of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead because late releases will be adjusted to compensate for the high volume released during the experiment.
Excerpt: A deal between a coalition of tribes and the Lower Colorado Region of the Bureau of Reclamation aims to address concerns over drought and water levels in the nation’s largest reservoir. The deal is also an economic boost for the tribes.
Excerpt: "The State of Arizona is in great need of water," CRIT Tribal chairman Dennis Patch said. "If we're able to fix our system and allow us to irrigate what lands we have now and with the conservation methods..that will give us more water to make a water deal to help the state and overall the region."
Excerpt: But there will be no water shortage in the lower Colorado River, at least not officially. The federal government projects there will be enough Colorado River water available for states to take their full share.
Excerpt: Lake Havasu City residents have a front-row seat to the river’s use but are oddly distanced from the initial consequences of a shortage. The city is currently using only about half of its river water allocations. In fact, thanks to conservation, the lower Colorado River regional states actually used less than the full allocation last year.
Excerpt: Water diversions from historically wet areas of the country will probably play a big role in the future of the region and water officials would do well to make plans for those now rather than when the Southwest’s water needs become urgent.
Excerpt: Despite sinking to a record low in early July, Lake Mead should be just full enough on Jan. 1 to avoid an unprecedented federal shortage declaration for at least one more year.
Excerpt: Decisive projections released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for the reservoir east of Las Vegas to start 2017 with a surface elevation of about 1,079 feet above sea level. That’s roughly 4 feet above the line that would force Nevada and Arizona to cut their Colorado River water use.
Excerpt: Water officials in Nevada, Arizona and California hope to further delay the first official shortage on the Colorado through a series of voluntary cuts now being discussed.
By the end of the year, the three states hope to finalize a landmark deal under which Arizona would shoulder the largest cuts and California would accept reductions to its river use for the first time.
Excerpt: The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to historic low levels, and federal water managers said Thursday the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to shrink amid ongoing drought.
Excerpt: The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to let it drop another few feet by the end of next month. Then, it will be refilled enough by the end of the year to pass a crucial water-level mark to avoid cuts in water deliveries to residents, farms, tribes and businesses in Arizona, Nevada and California.
Excerpt: Lake Mead's high-water capacity is 1,225 feet above sea level. It reaches so-called "dead pool" at just under 900 feet, meaning nothing would flow downstream from Hoover Dam.
Excerpt: A tiny European shellfish whose larvae are swarming the Colorado River and connected water bodies has colonized reservoirs and canals in the hills around the Phoenix area.
Excerpt: Quagga mussels were first introduced in this country by an accidental release from a tanker’s ballast water into the Great Lakes back in the 1980s. They have expanded rapidly through the Southwest since their discovery at Lake Mead nine years ago.
Excerpt: Across the Southwest, the invaders are changing business for water providers. In Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Water Authority had to add pipes to mix ammonia and chlorine at its new, billion-dollar deepwater intake in Lake Mead, killing veligers before they enter the system.
The annual cost for chemicals is about $50,000, a spokesman said.
Excerpt: In the grips of long-term drought, the Colorado River Basin and the cities that rely on its water face unprecedented challenges and significant uncertainty with a warming climate and large-scale land-use change. They are developing new water-resource policies for a future of increasing uncertainty.
Excerpt: “It is an unprecedented time to conduct this type of use-inspired research for the Colorado River Basin region,” said Dave White, director of Decision Center for a Desert City and Global Security Initiative fellow. “It comes with a greater sense of urgency and a greater sense of understanding of the scale and scope of the changes that are likely necessary to transition the cities and the region into a more sustainable state over the next several decades.”
Excerpt: Through the expanded use of DCDC and WaterSim, researchers will build a suite of robust alternatives for the cities that rely on Colorado River water to strengthen their positions and not be as vulnerable to unforeseen change.
“We want to get not only ahead of this current drought and crisis but to use this energy and opportunity to think about the next 30 years, or the next 100 years,” White said.
Excerpt: A new decontamination station inside Lake Havasu State Park serviced its first boat this week. The device, inside a shipping container, flushes 140-degree water through a boat’s water intake systems. Boats then need about a week to dry.
Excerpt: The mussels can ruin boat motors and clog water intakes, such as pipes and screens on power and water-treatment plants.
Excerpt: Kami Silverwood, a Game and Fish aquatic invasive species specialist, said the importance of cleaning boats and draining water can’t be stressed enough.
“Other western states are like, ‘Hey, you have the mussels, you need to contain them,”’ Silverwood said.
Excerpt: the area has been in a drought for most of the last 15 years, she has seen the water creep away, with a chalky ring on the lake’s rocky edges marking the heights it once reached. The longtime home of the marina has mostly dried up, forcing a move several years ago to a site 12 miles away. And on a recent morning, crews went to work on the elaborate process, requiring weeks of preparation and costing over $100,000, to ease the marina — with its boat slips, shop and offices — farther out into water.
Excerpt: When it is full, the reservoir, a few dozen miles from the Las Vegas Strip, reaches an elevation of more than 1,220 feet. But last week, Lake Mead broke records, falling to about 1,079 feet, lows not seen since the lake was created in the 1930s. At the moment, the lake is at only 38 percent of its capacity, and officials warn that the water level will continue to fall throughout the summer, with projections showing an estimated elevation of 1,073 feet by September.
Excerpt: “They have practically allocated every single drop, and for many years they had over-allocated,” said Sajjad Ahmad, who is also a civil and environmental engineering professor at U.N.L.V. “We are operating on the edge. That we know.”
Excerpt: Ms. Kaiser’s fears are less about the falling water level and directed more at the attention paid to it. She remembered the last time stories of record-breaking lows spread just before the relief of an exceptionally wet year in 2011, and what that meant for her business.
“We take phone calls from all over the world from people that think Lake Mead is a mud hole,” she said. “They call and want to cancel their reservation because they heard there’s no water there.”
But the lake, which draws close to seven million tourists a year, is still a blue expanse amid the desert, covering about 242,000 acres and in places plunging nearly 300 feet deep.
Excerpt: Officials project the lake to stand at 1,080 feet Sunday and ultimately sink to 1073.03 feet by the end of this June before recovering just enough to steer clear of a 2016 Colorado River shortage declaration %u2014 by less than 7 feet.
Excerpt: The 15-year drought has left less snowpack in the Rocky Mountains and fewer spring storms to recharge the river. In addition, the snowpack lately has been melting more quickly than reclamation officials hoped, which means that more of the water evaporates or is absorbed into the ground, Davis said.
Excerpt: Federal forecasters expect the lake to stay in record territory and continue to drop through the end of June, when it could dip as low as 1,073 feet above sea level. After that, the reservoir should begin to inch back up as Lake Powell delivers more water downstream. This should give record keepers time to update their ledgers before next April, when the water level will likely to enter historic territory once again.
Excerpt: Should Lake Mead start 2016 below the 1,075 mark, it will trigger the first federal shortage declaration on the Colorado and prompt Nevada and Arizona to cut back on the amount of water they take from the river.
Current projections call for the lake to remain just above that all-important shortage line on Jan. 1 of both 2016 and 2017, but those forecasts assume average or better snow accumulations in the mountains that feed the Colorado River — something that’s happened only three times in the past 15 years.
Excerpt: The historic four-year drought in California has been grabbing the headlines lately, but there's a much bigger problem facing the West: the now 14-year drought gripping the Colorado River basin.
Excerpt: "I do believe that Nevada is a poster child for the rest of the nation," Entsminger says. "We have shown that you can grow your economy and use less water."
Excerpt: But conservation can go only so far when your supply is shrinking fast. So the water authority is currently spending $1.5 billion to burrow a new tunnel even deeper down into Lake Mead: The old tunnels that suck water over to Las Vegas will dry up if the lake's level sinks below 1,000 feet.
Excerpt: Last week’s winter storm helped rescue the city of Williams from the Stage 4 water restrictions the city has been living with for more than a year.
Excerpt: But the recent rain and snow was a big boost to the city’s reservoirs, which now hold a 16-month supply of water based on peak summer demand. Those surface water supplies are the basis for water restrictions, according to city code.
Excerpt: Between the end of December and this week, Dogtown Lake, the city’s biggest reservoir, grew from 119 million gallons to 191 million gallons and is now 56 percent full. Cataract Lake, another reservoir, more than doubled in size, from 45 million gallons to 98 million gallons and is now 72 percent full. Buckskinner Lake is now completely full. Santa Fe Dam and Kaibab Lake, which were so low they were untreatable, also filled up considerably.
Excerpt: According to the City of Flagstaff’s Utilities Division, the storms added more than a billion-and-a-half gallons of water to the city’s supplies. That’s more than half of all the water the city delivers to its customers in a year.
Excerpt: According to the National Weather Service, last month was the warmest February on record for Flagstaff, Winslow and Prescott with nearly two weeks of daytime highs reaching into the 60s. It was also dry, with snowfall for that month less than half of the February average. So far this season, Flagstaff has received about three-quarters of its normal snowfall.
Excerpt: Low water levels, high temperatures and an abundance of aquatic snails have combined this year to cause an outbreak of "swimmer's itch" in the reservoir at Steinaker State Park.
Excerpt: The park has recorded "seven to 10" cases of cercarial dermatitis — the scientific term for the skin condition commonly known as swimmer's itch — so far this summer, Murray said. It's the first time since 1999 that a case has been reported, he said.
"Usually it's kids that get it," Murray said, noting that children tend to spend more time playing in the warmer water near the shore.
Excerpt: A typical case of swimmer's itch causes discomfort for two or three days. It can be treated with topical ointments and over-the-counter antihistamines, Blake said. More severe cases, however, can last longer and may mask a more serious problem.